History of Philadelphia vowels

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A couple of days ago, Joe Fruehwald and Bill Labov were on WHYY, the local public television station, in a NewsWorks Tonight segment about "How the Philly accent is changing". The text version on the newsworks.org web site is nicely presented, with illustrative inline sound clips. You should read (and listen to) the whole thing!


  1. Keith M Ellis said,

    March 29, 2013 @ 2:00 pm

    Would you be willing to write in more detail about the phonemes (/o/ and /aI/?) discussed in the piece, the characteristics in how they've changed (or, I guess, more specifically the characteristics of those four speakers), and the relationship of these changes to regional variations?

    Maybe I've been spoiled by LL and your usual detailed analysis, but this piece just left me wanting more because, basically, all it gave me were actual samples of these changes (which I'm not complaining about, that's great!) and a bare-bones, general explanation of the changes/trends they represent, with no detail and no context.

    [(myl) Check out William Labov , Ingrid Rosenfelder, and Josef Fruehwald, "One Hundred Years of Sound Change in Philadelphia: Linear Incrementation, Reversal, and Reanalysis", Language 89.1 p30-65 2013.]

  2. bianca steele said,

    March 29, 2013 @ 10:12 pm

    The woman in the first clip could be my cousin, about 15 years older than me (so born in the early 1950s) and raised in South Philly. The man in the last clip could almost be my brother, born twenty years later and raised in the Far Northeast. So I guess that's confirmation of the results.

    My four year old occasionally asks me why I say different words for, say, "towel." I think she may say "wooder" herself but nobody else has picked up on it yet.

  3. bianca steele said,

    March 29, 2013 @ 10:29 pm

    You can hear how carefully the radio guy is pronouncing "vowel" and "how," too. (Now look, he'll turn out to be from Chicago or something.)

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